IIHS: Taller, more upright vehicles deadlier for pedestrians

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It’s no secret that today’s cars and trucks are much larger and heavier than models from a decade or more ago. Even so, most new vehicles are far safer than previous models – at least for the people inside. That’s not always true for pedestrians, as the trend toward larger vehicles has brought more danger to those walking on and around the roads. A recent report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that the taller, more upright shapes found on pickup trucks and large SUVs pose a greater threat to pedestrians, noting that pedestrian deaths have risen steadily over the last decade-plus.

The IIHS notes that over the last 30 years, U.S. passenger vehicles have grown four inches wider, ten inches longer, eight inches taller, and 1,000 pounds heavier on average. The organization said that many models exceed 40 inches tall at the hood’s leading edge, which means they are eye level or higher for many adults and far above many kids’ heads.

Taller vehicles – those with hoods more than 40 inches off the ground – and those with upright grille angles of 65 degrees or less were 45% more likely to cause a pedestrian fatality than those with hoods 30 inches or less in height. Vehicles of the same height with more upright grille angles were 44% more likely.

Hood shape, grille angle, hood height, and other factors impact the chances of pedestrian fatality, and the IIHS said that sloping front-end shapes were less likely to be fatal when paired with shorter hood heights. Researchers found that more upright grille shapes were likelier to throw pedestrians and injure them with blunt force, whereas shorter hoods with more angled grilles encourage rolling onto the hood.

Where the tallest vehicles used to be reserved for commercial trucks and job sites, many of today’s most common models fit the IIHS’ “danger zone” height and grille angle measurements. That includes most full-size trucks and some large SUVs, two of America’s most popular vehicle types. Automakers aren’t going to kill their most in-demand models, but the IIHS hopes it can convince them to reshape the vehicles’ front ends to make them less lethal.

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